Hospital Study Finds Medicaid Expansion Would Have Multiple Benefits

More food for thought as Governor Tom Corbett prepares to meet next week (April 2nd) with the U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to discuss Medicaid expansion.  The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania has released a study that shows expanding Medicaid coverage in Pennsylvania will boost economic activity by at least 3.2 billion a year while reducing the state’s uninsured rate from over 12 percent to around 5%.

Paula Bussard, Vice President of Policy and Regulatory Services, says the positive effects would outweigh additional costs.  She says the argument against expansion may not have considered all of the economic benefits, including a reduction in the costs of uncompensated care.  But the study conducted by RAND Health indicates the benefits would have a long term cost with uneven regional results.

Governor Corbett has rejected the expansion so far over concerns about the additional costs to Pennsylvania, but he has left the door open if the state is granted some flexibility by the federal government in managing the program.

Bussard says there are a number of options the state could seek, including the ability to keep children on CHIP, the Children’s Health Improvement Program., as opposed to transferring them into Medicaid.

Small Group of Reps Renews Push to End COLAs

A small group of state lawmakers is renewing the push to eliminate public officials’ annual cost-of-living adjustments, commonly referred to as COLAs.  Every year lawmakers and a variety of other public officials receive a pay raise that’s tied to the consumer price index, but first-term state Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) says it’s time for the General Assembly to lead by example.

“There’s about a $1,700 dollar increase every year for a salary that is above average for the family median and it’s unnecessary,” says Kim, “and I think it would just be a great message – along with savings – to cut it out, build the trust back and save money.” 

Rank-and-file lawmakers will earn $83,800 this year. 

Kim and 2nd term state Rep. Gerald Mullery (D-Luzerne) are leading the charge this session.  So far, seven of 203 House members have signed onto their bill.  Only three members signed onto an identical bill last session, which died in the House State Government Committee. 

Some lawmaker and Corbett administration officials already donate their COLAs to charity or return them to the commonwealth, but eliminating the annual pay raises would ensure the money stays in the public treasury and prevent it from counting toward officials’ pensions.

Radio PA Roundtable 03.29.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul discuss the opening on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court consideration of same sex marriage and a property tax elimination bill in Harrisburg.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Will the Supreme Court Redefine Marriage?

Marriage equality advocates are calling this week’s US Supreme Court arguments a watershed moment.  Two cases were argued before the high court: one challenges California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, while the other takes to task the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“In light of everything it really says whether or not fairness and equality mean something to everyone in America, or just certain people in America,” says Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin, “and that’s really the significance for gay people.” 

Martin points to the long list of federal benefits available to straight married couples, which aren’t available to legally married same-sex couples.

But redefining marriage would open a door that cannot be closed, according to Pennsylvania Pastors’ Network president Sam Rohrer.  He says marriage is not man’s idea; it’s God’s idea.  So changing the definition, Rohrer says, would remove any view of higher law. 

“This is the message that is sent to young people who say ‘why be concerned? I can do whatever I want to do.’ That concept is what the changing of the definition of DOMA actually communicates.  That’s a dangerous communication.”

Like many court observers, Rohrer expects the Supreme Court will largely leave the California case untouched.  While hoping the court does the same with DOMA, Rohrer is bracing for a more convoluted decision. 

Regardless of the outcome, Ted Martin hopes all of the attention will promote discussion in Pennsylvania about how to treat its LGBT citizens. He points out that in Pennsylvania a person can still be fired or evicted simply for being gay. 

Recent polling has shown growing support for same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania, but it appears there’s little appetite in the General Assembly to take up legislation that would make them legal.

Guns, Seized Guns

Advocates ‘Demand Action’ to End Gun Violence

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has already advanced four pieces of gun legislation, but it remains to be seen what the chamber will vote upon when it reconvenes next month.  Regardless of what happens, Vice President Joe Biden says it’s just the beginning.  “The American people are way ahead of their political leaders and we – the president and I and the mayors – intend to stay current with the American people,” Biden said on a Wednesday conference call hosted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

The call came in advance of what advocates are calling the “National Day to Demand Action” to end gun violence.  In the Keystone State, rallies are planned, Thursday, in Easton and Norristown.  Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter also has a Thursday news conference planned to address the issue. 

Vice President Biden laid out a number of priorities on the call, including universal background checks.  “No federal registry is kept, it’s not gun registration, it’s common sense,” Biden said, noting that such background checks only take minutes.  He says a loophole in the existing law allows 40% of guns to be purchased without a background check. 

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has already launched a TV ad campaign in Pennsylvania, urging Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to support expanded background checks. 

This is all in anticipation of a Senate debate next month, which is expected could include background checks either in the principle bill or as an amendment. 

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania gun rights supporters already have a date circled on their calendars next month.  April 23rd will mark Second Amendment Action Day at the state capitol.

Advocates Want Treatment, Not Just Testing of Susquehanna

The entire Susquehanna River basin will be the subject of extensive testing and sampling for the remainder of 2013.  The Department of Environmental Protection’s new 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan calls for tests to be run on water quality, sediments, pesticides and fish.  It’s all in hopes of finally putting to rest the mystery surrounding diseased and dying smallmouth bass. 

The public can track the DEP’s ongoing analysis online.   

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway tells Radio PA the DEP’s plan recognizes the Susquehanna is sick and in need of study, but doesn’t do anything to start cleaning up the river. 

“We need to begin treating the river, we need to put a plan together to fix the river while we continue to do the kind of studies the DEP is proposing,” Arway says. 

Distressed smallmouth bass first started turning up in the Susquehanna in 2005, and while no exact cause has been pinpointed Arway says there are solid theories that can be acted upon now

For instance, Arway says, they’ve noticed high levels of nutrient runoff from farms and lawns.  “A lot of our soils were oversaturated with those nutrients and they’re getting into the river causing aquatic plants – the algae – to grow, which takes the oxygen out of the water and causes stress to the young bass that live in the river.”

“If you go to our boat launches… you’ll see maybe only one or two boat trailers when they used to be packed with boat trailers before,” Arway says, noting that some anglers refuse to fish the river anymore.  The Susquehanna River used to be a haven for smallmouth bass fishermen. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had a similar reaction to the DEP’s 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan. 

(photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

PennDOT Keeping Up with Winter That Won’t Go Away

The calendar might say spring but the weather still says winter.  Despite today’s snow, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation road crews have been keeping up with the season that won’t quit.

The parade of smaller storms this winter has not depleted PennDOT’s supplies according to spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt.  She says it has been relatively mild winter statewide on the whole.

Waters-Trasatt says PennDOT treats depending on the type of storm and whether there’s more ice or snow or rain mixing in.  If storms are closer together, there will be salt residue on the roads, meaning they will have to pre-treat less. Just last week, parts of the state had a similar snowfall.

Waters-Trassat says they have not changed their brine use recently; they’re not using more or less of it than usual.    Some mechanics are reporting more vehicle corrosion, citing more use of brine in recent years by road crews during winter.

You can learn more about PennDOT’s approach to winter storms at the department’s website.

Saving Amtrak Service through Western PA

Amtrak currently runs one train per day in each direction between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, but the so-called “Pennsylvanian” line was at risk of being slashed if the state didn’t pick up part of the tab.  Amtrak had been asking for $6.5-million dollars a year in state subsidies, but eventually agreed to a $3.8-million dollar deal with Governor Tom Corbett. 

However, the worrying isn’t over in western Pennsylvania just yet.  “The bottom line is we can pay for this service if the transportation funding package does pass,” says PennDOT press secretary Steve Chizmar, “if it doesn’t then it remains to be seen.” 

In February Governor Tom Corbett proposed a transportation funding plan that would raise $5.4-billion dollars over five years.  It included earmarked funds for intermodal transportation.  Many lawmakers were hoping for an even bigger bite at the apple and Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) plans to introduce his transportation funding package next month. 

Pennsylvania kicks in $8 – 9-million dollars a year to help fund the Keystone East line, which provides Amtrak service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.  It does not currently fund the Pennsylvanian line that runs west of Harrisburg. 

The $6.5-million dollar figure Amtrak initially proposed would have amounted to a state subsidy $27-per person, per trip.  The Corbett administration objected to that figure, and Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch called it an “unfair assessment” during last month’s budget hearings. 

On its way from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvanian makes stops in Lewistown, Huntingdon, Altoona, Johnstown and Greensburg.

Pennsylvania Releases February Unemployment Report

Pennsylvania’s jobless rate ticked down in February.

It’s still half a point higher than it was a year ago and four-tenths above the national average, but the unemployment rate dipped one-tenth of a point last month to 8.1 percent.

Department of Labor and Industry secretary Julia Hearthway says the state continues to see job growth and a particularly positive sign is in the gain in manufacturing, which added 44 hundred jobs in February.

The state’s over the year growth was most pronounced in the private sector. The largest gains were in professional and business services and education and health services.

Nationally, the jobless rate stood at 7.7% in February.

Radio PA Roundtable 03.22.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman brings you the vote from the state House of Representatives this week regarding privatization of the state liquor stores. Did lawmakers give the thumbs up? If so, will the bill pass the Senate?

Also, legislation to allow online voter registration in PA is making its way through the Senate.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast: